Archive for philosophical

Forbidden Tomes: SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER by THOMAS LIGOTTI

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

It’s a terrible shame that so many great genre authors active in the 70s and 80s – Ted Klein, Karl Edward Wagner, and Kathe Koja, to name a few – have gone out of print and are so difficult to find. This past year, Penguin rereleased a collection of cosmic horror stories that had beforehand been flying under the radar. These stories come from the warped, wicked, and brilliant mind of Thomas Ligotti – the first of which is called SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER.

516gWRAzl2L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title. These stories range in setting – from mundane suburbs to decaying side streets, and even surreal dreamscapes – but all touch on a deep nihilistic brand of horror that even Lovecraft doesn’t touch. Most of Ligotti’s characters are hyper-intelligent outcasts who long for a different existence, perhaps in another dimension. Their searches bring them to horrible truths that grant them their wish in the worst possible way.

51DzNznW+oL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Placed in dark Expressionistic streets and warped buildings (perhaps echoing the decay of Ligotti’s hometown Detroit), populated by grotesque humans and not-unconscious puppets, Ligotti’s stories are uncanny from the first sentence. It is hard to recognize anything within them as worldly, though many of them feature elements that must have come from our present time. This removed reality is like a Tim Burton set left to its own rot-filled devices. It is the perfect environment for the transgressive horror that presents itself: horrors of the mind that force us to question our own perceptions.

Ligotti’s writing is dense and philosophical, much more so than your average horror story. At times this style can become hard to decipher; but for the most part, it elevates the terror to a mental level that makes it impossible to shake. The nightmares within these stories stem from world-bending theories – of alternate lives, killers who absorb their victims, and madness that takes physical form. And the protagonist never escapes the evil they encounter.

Thomas+Ligotti

There is a true sense of madness as well, embedded in the hyper-intelligent prose – a sense that Ligotti himself has witnessed these horrors himself. He transcends the influence of Lovecraft in this way. The protagonists are not only fighting a cosmic terror from another reality; they are battling their own deteriorating minds, which become the most fearsome villain. With corporeal traits – alcoholism and insomnia being the main two – to offset their intangible mental decline, these characters become close to home. It’s easy to imagine their breakdowns as our own.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer, (Jun 1991, Thomas Ligotti, publ. Carroll & Graf, 0-88184-721-6, $4.50, x+275pp, pb, coll)

With this unique brand of cosmic horror, Ligotti’s stories present a devastating and terrifying panorama of monsters. His imagery shocks and his ideas rattle. It is unlike any horror prose I’ve encountered before, and I am thrilled that I can recognize him now; and now that I know him, I cannot forget him. Like his protagonists, Ligotti opens mental doors into ideas that may be better left unseen. But to see them is incredible.

Advertisements

OVER THE GARDEN WALL: A Modern Classic

Posted in Halloween, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Animation has been at the forefront of the avant-garde television movement, with countless shows – “Adventure Time” and “Rick and Morty,” to name just two – combining vividly unique styles with subversively brilliant storylines. It’s a genre-bending, form-defying renaissance. And from this revolution has come a great Halloween gift: OVER THE GARDEN WALL.

8315173otgw

When reading a logline or seeing the poster for the first time, this Cartoon Network-produced miniseries sounds fairly typical: two brothers get lost in a spooky wood and must find their way home. In execution, the show transcends this premise and fills it with subtle, sublime brilliance. The brothers encounter characters who reveal dark but poignant themes about isolation and loneliness, and also travel on their own philosophical journey, struggling with a purgatorial loss of hope and purpose.

960

Through the music, the character design and the general atmosphere, the show places itself in an amorphous early-1900s period that is purely enchanting. The supporting characters range from animals dressed in old-fashioned clothes, grotesque witches, and skeleton-dressed pumpkins. And the forest through which the brothers must find their way is stunningly designed. The animation is luminous, with soft oranges and browns that evoke autumn perfectly. It evokes something akin to “Wind in the Willows,” with a gentle aura that can sometimes turn sinister.

Screen-shot-2014-11-10-at-11.41.46-AM-1024x640

But these are just style elements. The true genius lies in the characters and stories. Throughout the ten episodes, the brothers encounter about as many different characters – my particular favorites were Auntie Whispers (voiced by Tim Curry) and the pumpkin people – who each evoke something of the lost purpose that the brothers feel themselves. And the villain, a terrifyingly simple creation called The Beast, stands as a testament that the greatest evil is often the most invisible and enticing. I won’t reveal the theme that this creature represents, but suffice to say, it culminates in a heartbreakingly beautiful finale.

over-the-garden-wall-auntie-whispers-and-lorna

“Over the Garden Wall” also holds itself as one of the greatest examples of animated horror that I’ve seen. The Beast being the greatest example, but supported by a number of other ghouls and wicked creatures, this show displays an unsettling ability to scare the viewer – all without breaching its target audience of young viewers. For this reason, and because of the atmosphere, it’s ultimate Halloween viewing – standing alongside “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” I dare say. Horror does not have to be hardcore to unsettle; in fact, subtle can sometimes be scarier.

tumblr_nekyezW8RH1t3ggcgo1_500

With terror, philosophy, and beauty combined, “Over the Garden Wall” feels like a classic birthed in our modern era – not only for its craft, but for its sincerity. No note of this show comes off as false or pandering. The creators truly believe what they’re making, and each frame is instilled with that passion. It feels honest and raw, which causes it to touch the viewer so much more intimately. The humor, the fear, and the sadness all come from a real, truthful place. It’s cathartic, in the end – and who ever thought a children’s show could be cathartic? That’s why it transcends its boundaries and creates something universally brilliant. And, it so happens, one of the best Halloween watches of all time.